Desert Sharing: Two Women, Two Deserts, Two Cultures, One Friendship
In 2006 Mongolian artist Tugsoyun Sodnom travelled to Australia and met Melbourne artist Jenni Mitchell. They soon realized they shared a love of wild places; both previously spending much of their artistic pursuits and journeys into the deserts and countryside of their respective countries.
Excited to discover a kindred spirit in each other Jenni invited Tugsoyun along on a painting trip into the South Australian Flinders Rangers with partner artist Mervyn Hannan.
The three artists set off for a journey to Parachilna in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Togsuyon was surprised how many features of this rugged part of Australia reminded her of parts of countryside Mongolia. The wide expanse of horizon, the dry rugged cliffs and sandy soil had a familiarity; except for the fauna and vegetation which was fascinating in its difference and abundance for Togsuyon. Together as they journeyed the artists swapped the words for each feature of landscape and began learning and sharing customs. Even the use of soft dry pastel was a new experience for Tugsoyun who was more familiar with an oil pastel commonly used by Mongolian artists. The brilliant intensity of the хех тэнгэр; blue sky, was the same. As Tugsoyun shared stories of her beloved Mongolia Jenni and Mervyn vowed to visit and the project of Desert Sharing was born.
Days were spent painting together under the shade of ancient red river gum trees growing from the stony beds of the wide dry desert rivers. The gentle sound of the diamond dove call contrasted with the harsh screech of the many large flocks of white cockatoos along the river banks. And in the evening back at camp the artists marveled together at the spectacle of the wild sun fire as it set below the horizon backed by the beauty of a soft pink and mauve light.
On return from South Australia to Jenni’s Eltham studio Togsoyun and Jenni worked for several weeks side by side listening to the music of Mongolia, and sometimes that of Australia. The Mongolian traditional music seemed to fill the studio appropriately with a sound for the artists to paint the large canvases that followed. ‘I am usually more comfortable working alone, and yet with Tugsoyun sharing my space was easy, our work is quite different in appearance, but the essence derives from the same influence; that of the spirit of the landscape in its great expansiveness or the small fine detail as that of a small plant or composition of a stone.
The culmination of the three artists Flinders Ranges work came together in an exhibition held soon after at the Eltham Montsalvat Art Colony which was officially opened by the then Consulate for Mongolia, Peter Sloane who recognized the importance of the three artists embarking on an their cultural exchange in partnership, ideas and friendship.
Although Mitchell and Hannan were unable to join Sodnom until several years later; by invitation they were able to ship some paintings to Mongolia to be shown in two invitation exhibitions in Ulaanbaatar.
It was not until 2010 that Jenni and Mervyn embarked on their first visit to Mongolia; and their artist friends home city Ulaanbaatar.
Again the three artists were able to travel and work together. The first trip from Ulaanbaatar was made to Kharhorin; old capital city of Mongolia where once more they set up their paints and made sketches and small paintings of the Mongolian countryside.
‘The Mongolian Steppe appeared endless. In comparison to the breadth of an Australian desert landscape Mongolia’s countryside seemed even larger. The great Steppe plains interspersed by outcrops of green hills behind which lay further vast plains of countryside seemed to have no end’.
The fenceless countryside of Mongolia; a ger camp with family, herdsmen and satellite dish contrasts against an Australian with collections of tin sheds and outback humpies. Thousands of kilometers of fence posts and wire divide Australia into parcels of ownership. Nowadays the Australian outback station is more likely to be owned by an international syndicate and use light aircraft and bikes to muster stock that was once tendered by stockmen on horses.
The presence of the eagle is important in both landscapes: a symbol of the power and fragility of life.
You do not need to travel far across the Mongolian Steppe to find evidence of human life. From seemingly nowhere will appear a herdsman on a horse, or a small settlement of gers, a relic of a past Buddhist temple, an earlier carved stone or a fresh blue silk offering laid upon an Ovoo. In both our countryside’s bleached animal bones abound. These are among our countries differences and similarities and the subject of our paintings and photography.
The artists travelled together a second trip into the North Eastern Khentii Amig region to experience a different kind of landscape. This time, in Chinggis Khan birth country the landscape was more hilly with great open plains and rivers. The further north the more vegetation and birch forest appeared as a contrasting subject matter. Timber building constructions instead of Gers and a lot of water and swamp land to traverse. The abundance of wildflowers was fascinating to the Australians who were familiar with many of them at home as cultivated garden varieties.
The three artists have been preparing work over the past years from these journeys to present as the continuing story of Desert Sharing. Works from these share journeys will be on exhibition at two venue. The first exhibition opens at the History Museum May 28 Desert sharing ii and continues for one week, the second show in Ulaanbaatar, desert Sharing iii at the Union of Mongolian Artists gallery commencing June 35 for one week.
Selected Australian and Mongolian paintings, drawings, photographs and silk textiles will be presented across the two venues.
Each of the artists have travelled far in their pursuit of wild landscape including the Antarctic, The Arctic, Norway Africa, Europe as well as Australia and Mongolia.
The project will return to Australia In 2013 when Tugsoyun plans to return to Australia and continue the exchange of culture, landscape and exhibitions.